Published on March 05, 2014

Growing number of babies showing narcotic withdrawal symptoms at birth

Reported by: Sam King, Action News


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County had the highest numbers of babies treated for neonatal abstinence syndrome, according to a report issued by the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

Babies develop NAS after being exposed to drugs like oxycodone and methodone in the womb. Doctors treated 215 babies for the syndrome in fiscal year 2012, up from 154 in fiscal year 2011. Statewide, the number increased from 1,563 in 2011 to 1,630 in 2012.

"It's a very sensitive topic for moms,” said Dr. Priya Thirumlai, an OB/GYN at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Southside. "You just go through a happy time having the baby, and then knowing the baby was exposed to narcotic, it's a very sensitive time.”

Babies who are found to have withdrawal symptoms may have to stay in neonatal intensive care units for a week or more. Often taxpayers on the hook for the $60,000 cost.

“If a baby has to be in the neonatal intensive care unit, it takes a lot of resources,” said Jennifer Gornto, executive director of the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition. “In our community, there are a lot of women on Medicaid.”

Gronto said prevention efforts are key to helping reduce the number of babies suffering from NAS. One such project, the Magnolia Project, helps women of childbearing age in high-risk areas improve their health and well-being. Gronto said the agency will be seeking funds from the community, as a federal grant for the project will lapse for the summer.

“A lot of what we provide are free services to women who don’t health insurance,” Gornto said.

The report from the Statewide Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns also cited the progress that had been made in reducing the prescription drug abuse problem in Florida, while acknowledging NAS continues to be an issue.

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